Climate Crisis: Present Changes and Coming Impacts

climate-changeThis Tuesday, the Whitehouse received the latest draft of the Climate Assessment Report, a scientific study produced by the National Climate Assessment to determine the impacts of Climate Change. In addition to outlining the risks it poses to various regions in the US, the report also addresses the apparent increase in the number of severe weather events that have taken place in the past few years, and how these events affect local economies and communities.

According to the 840-page report, America is fast becoming a stormy and dangerous place, with rising seas and disasters effecting regions from flood-stricken Florida to the wildfire-ravaged West. The report concluded that Climate change’s assorted harms “are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.” It also emphasized how warming and its all-too-wild weather are changing daily lives, even using the phrase “climate disruption” as another way of saying global warming.

Climate_Change_vulnerability_USHenry Jacoby, co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at the MIT, was joined by other scientists and White House officials when he claimed that this is the most detailed and U.S.-focused scientific report on global warming. Above all, the most chilling claim contained within is the fact that “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”

The report also examined the effects at the regional and state-level, compared with recent reports from the UN that examined North America as a single case study. In a recent interview with CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, Jacoby pointed to a range of impacts of global warming that people see everyday, from the change in the growing season, to extreme heat, severe Atlantic storms and drought in some areas.

climate_change_variableweatherAs he explained, these changes are far more than just variable weather:

If you look at what’s happening to the Arctic ice at your northern border, you are seeing changes to the ice like you haven’t seen in hundreds of years. We’re seeing change on a scale that’s going beyond variability.

A draft of the report was released in January 2013, but this version has been reviewed by more scientists, the National Academy of Science, 13 other government agencies, and was subject to public comment. It is written in a bit more simple language so people could realize “that there’s a new source of risk in their lives,” said study lead author Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Even though the nation’s average temperature has risen by as much as 1.9 degrees since record keeping began in 1895, it’s in the big, wild weather where the average person feels climate change the most. As the report’s co-author Katharine Hayhoe – a Texas Tech University climate scientist – put it, extreme weather like droughts, storms and heat waves hit us in the pocketbooks and can be seen by our own eyes. And it’s happening a lot more often lately.

climate_change_precipThe report says the intensity, frequency and duration of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes have increased since the early 1980s. Winter storms have increased in frequency and intensity and shifted northward since the 1950s, with heavy downpours increasing by 71 per cent in the northeast alone. Heat waves are projected to intensify nationwide, with droughts in the southwest expected to get stronger. Sea levels have risen 20 centimetres since 1880 and are projected to rise between 0.3 meters and 1.2 metres by 2100.

The report was also clear that the 2010’s have been a record-setting decade. For example, since January 2010, 43 of the lower 48 states have set at least one monthly record for heat, such as California having its warmest January on record this year. In the past 51 months, states have set 80 monthly records for heat, 33 records for being too wet, 12 for lack of rain and just three for cold, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal weather records.

climate_change_tempsAs she described it, America is basically in a boxing match, and is currently on the ropes:

We’re being hit hard. We’re holding steady, and we’re getting hit in the jaw. We’re starting to recover from one punch, and another punch comes.

John Podesta, an adviser to President Barack Obama, said on Monday that the report includes “a huge amount of practical, usable knowledge that state and local decision-makers can take advantage of.” The report also stressed that climate change threatens human health and well-being in a number of ways. Those include smoke-filled air from more wildfires, smoggy air from pollution, more diseases from tainted food, water, mosquitoes and ticks.

climate_change_lossAnd then there’s more pollen because of warming weather and the effects of carbon dioxide on plants. Ragweed pollen season has lengthened by 24 days in the Minnesota-North Dakota region between 1995 and 2011, the report says. In other parts of the Midwest, the pollen season has gotten longer by anywhere from 11 days to 20 days. And all of this has associated costs, not the least of which is in damages, insurance costs, and health care expenses.

Flooding alone may cost $325 billion by the year 2100 in one of the worst-case scenarios, with $130 billion of that in Florida, the report says. Already the droughts and heat waves of 2011 and 2012 added about $10 billion to farm costs, the report says. Billion-dollar weather disasters have hit everywhere across the nation, but have hit Texas, Oklahoma and the southeast most often, the report says. And there is the impact on agricultural producers, which is also stressed:

Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience.

Climate_Change_vulnerability1Still, it’s not too late to prevent the worst of climate change, says the 840-page report, which the White House is highlighting as it tries to jump-start often stalled efforts to curb heat-trapping gases. However, if the U.S. and the world don’t change the way they use energy, the current effects will continue to intensify to the point where property damage, wildfires, storms, flooding and agricultural collapse will become untenable.

Already, the report has its detractors, many of whom appeared together for a Special Report segment on Fox News. In addition to commentator George Will questioning the scientific consensus – which accounts for 97% of the scientific community – Charles Krauthammer compared to the findings to a bargaining process, and ultimately condemned it as “superstition”. As he put it:

What we’re ultimately talking about here is human sin, through the production of carbon. It’s the oldest superstition around. It was in the Old Testament. It’s in the rain dance of the Native Americans. If you sin, the skies will not cooperate. This is quite superstitious and I’m waiting for science that doesn’t declare itself definitive but is otherwise convincing.

climate_change_denialNot to belabor the point, but superstition is what happens when people trust in rituals and practices that have no discernible effect whatsoever on a problem to protect themselves from said problem. Conducting research, performing field studies, and compiling statistics that cover hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years – this is called the scientific method. And Krauthammer would do well to realize that it is this same method that has done away with countless superstitious rituals throughout history.

He and other so-called skeptics (though a more accurate term is deniers) would also do well to understand the difference between superstition and a little thing known as cause and effect. For example, avoiding black cats, not walking under ladders, or sacrificing human beings to make the sun rise or the crops grow is superstition. Pumping thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the air, which is known to have the effect of absorbing the sun’s thermal energy (aka. radiant forcing), is cause and effect.

See? Easily distinguished. But if there’s one thing that the “denial machine” has shown an affinity for, its remaining divorced from the scientific consensus. Luckily, they have been in full-retreat for some time, leaving only the most die hard behind to fight their battles. One can only hope their influence continues to diminish as time goes on and the problems associated with Climate Change get worse.

You can read the  full Climate Assessment Report here.

Sources:,,, (2),

Climate Crisis: The Smog Vacuum

china smog 2013 TV bldgIn recent years, strategies aimed at combating Climate Change have evolved to become a two-pronged attack. In addition to finding ways to reduce how much we pollute, a number of methods are being devised to deal with the pollution we have already created. And one such device is being deployed to where it is needed the most: Beijing.

For many years now, China’s capitol has been notorious for its poor air quality. But last Tuesday, in the northeast city of Harbin, roads, schools and even the local airport were closed for two days straight due to a thick, choking haze that was due to unseasonably warm temperatures and very little wind coinciding with the smoke from local farmer’s burning straw and the initiation of Harbin’s coal-powered municipal heating system. resulting haze measured 1000 micrograms per cubic meter. That’s three times the concentration deemed hazardous by the World Health Organization, and many dozen times what is considered safe. To remedy the situation, city authorities are now coordinating with Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde to launch what he calls an “electronic vacuum cleaner” to suck up 50 meter-high cylinders of polluted air.

Two weeks ago, Roosegarde successfully demonstrated his smog machine in a 25 square meter room, in which he used an electrostatic field from copper coils to magnetize and pull down pollution from the air above. The effect could be replicated, he says, if those coils were deployed in public spaces. Now, Roosegaarde is working with Bop Ursem, a professor at the Technical University of Delft, to scale up the technology in Beijing. has had experience working with electrostatic fields in the past. Last year, he proposed using electromagnetic charging strips to charge cars on “smart,” communication-enabled highways, which won the designer an INDEX award in 2013. He also claims the project is safe, “pacemaker proof”, and really no different than the waves of WiFi downtown areas are already inundated with.

In addition, electrostatic air filtering is already used on a much smaller scale, in hospitals where clean air is a matter of hygiene and sanitation. But part of Roosegaarde’s challenge will be creating a clean 50-by-50 meter space, controlling for factors like wind. He also concedes that his smog machine won’t solve the problem of all of Beijing’s pollution, but is meant to serve as an awareness-raising exercise. for the resulting particles that are collected from the air, Roosegaarde believes they could be refashioned into useable products, such as jewelry. But as he himself put it, the concept is about dealing with a serious problem in a practical, new way:

I think it’s quite feasible in a weird way. Every project has its beauty and bullshit, so to speak. Of course you’ll have influences like wind, how high is the smog, but these are the pragmatics. In principle, this is doable… It is a statement to show [that] this is the new world, why do we accept the old world? In a world which is changing, it’s all about finding the missing links between imagination and innovation, between science and art.

Given the historic problem of smog in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, London, and Southeast Asia, the concept is likely to catch on. While it is primarily intended on removing harmful particulates, like heavy metals and toxic chemicals, it stands to reason that such devices will be paired with Carbon Capture technology to ensure that all harmful pollutants are scrubbed for our cities air.

trafficReducing the amount of pollution we have to contend with while making sure we generate less. At this point in the game, it’s the only way the worst effects of Climate Change will be avoided in the coming decades. Stay tuned!


Towards a Cleaner Future: The Cactus-Inspired Oil Skin

???Oil spills are a very difficult problem. In addition to being catastrophic to the local environment, they are also incredibly difficult to clean up. After a spill occurs, some always stays on the surface while the rest forms heavy droplets and sink downwards, either becoming suspended in the water or falling to the bottom. Getting at these bits of the slick is difficult, and current methods are neither cost effective nor environmentally friendly themselves.

For example, the containment booms and chemical dispersants that BP used after the Deepwater Horizon spill were highly ineffective, as anyone who followed the news of the spill will recall. Because of that disaster, and others besides, numerous solutions have been proposed to deal with spills in the future – ranging from filters, to tiny submarines, and oil-eating bacteria.

artificial_cactusBut most recently, a group of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have suggested a nature-inspired solution. Their concept calls for droplet-collecting “skins” modeled after cactus plants. In the desert, these pants collect moisture when condensation covers the tips of their spines and then falls under its own weight to the base and gets absorbed by the plant.

Working from this, the Chinese researchers created their own “cactus skin” – artificial cone-shaped needles made of copper and coated in silicone that. When submerged in water, the half-millimeter spikes draw down oil droplets and collect them at the bottom. According to the researchers, the method is good for 99% of oil-water mixes and works with several types of oil.

chinese_academy_of_scienceThe research appeared in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications. According to the paper:

Underwater, these structures mimic cacti and can capture micron-sized oil droplets and continuously transport them towards the base of the conical needles. Materials with this structure show obvious advantages in micron-sized oil collection with high continuity and high throughput.

The researchers think the device could also be used in the open air to remove fine droplets released with sprays. This way, they would be able to neutralize a good portion of oil released by malfunctioning rigs before it began polluting our oceans and waterways. On top of that, research at the Academy, specifically in the Institute of Chemistry, has revealed that this same concept might provide a solution to the problem of city pollution.

Between all of this, we could be seeing artificial cactuses in city environments very soon. Just not as potted plants and in the desert! And it does say much about our biomimetic future, where we are becoming increasingly dependent on solutions born of nature to solve our environmental problems.